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Inside Adult Books 4 Teens

Extremely Scientific Predictions of the Alex Awards

MARK:  Back before the 2011 Alex Awards were announced, Angela said she “would never presume to predict the Alex winners”, but this year I’ve convinced her to help me go ahead and presume away. So today we offer our combined random guesses, er . . . informed predictions as to what might make the 2013 Alex Awards list.

I’m going to start off with a couple of easy predictions: National Book Awards winners Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo and The Round House by Louise Erdrich. Boo’s memoir made our own list of the Best Adult Books 4 Teens this year, and as I’ve recently pointed out, the Alex Awards seem to have a soft spot for memoirs. Add to that the heaps and heaps of awards and best-of lists Boo has been making and I would not be at all surprised to see this one win an Alex.

As for The Round House, last year’s NBA Fiction winner, Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones (Bloomsbury, 2011) won an Alex, and like that title, The Round House is squarely poised for cross-over appeal to teens. We reviewed it here and Jonathan Hunt over on Heavy Medal even briefly wondered if it might reach the upper levels of the Newbery age range.

So now that I’ve taken the easy ones, I’ll pass the discussion off to Angela–give us your top two predictions for the Alex.

ANGELA:  Thanks, Mark. Interesting predictions. I think I’m in for the Boo, but not for The Round House. Just instinct, having read not one word of the latter.

Before I make my own, I want to relate the gist of a conversation I shared last week with an 11th graders about Behind the Beautiful Forevers, which she finished over the Christmas vacation. She said it was incredible, but so hard to read, to know that people live that way. Then she added, but it’s important that we know, isn’t it? (Yes, one of those, “I love teens!” moments.)

Back to predictions. Can I have five? No? Two. Well, these are my most certain. I think. Echoing Mark’s one fiction, one nonfiction tactic, I’m going with Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt (which I reviewed back in June) and (going out on a bit of a limb) Wild by Cheryl Strayed, which I came to late in the year. The Brunt is such a perfect combination of appeal and literary quality that I cannot imagine how it can fail. It was one of the few books I read last year that I just fell into. You know that experience? When there’s no struggle against entering a new world or getting to know new characters? I think that sort of beginning is crucial for teen appeal.

In the case of Wild, it’s all about the writing and the vibrancy of the story Strayed has to tell. And her utter honesty in telling it. Wow, was she a mess in her early 20s. Yet she’s willing to share that and the crazy journey that helped her climb out of her grief. (Besides, the Alex has a record of going to memoirs, as Mark has already noted.)

Handing it back over!

MARK:  Good calls on both titles – Tell the Wolves I’m Home seems to be one of those books that just keeps coming up. Well, we’ve probably maxed out as many nonfiction books as the Alex committee will recognize, so I’ll go for a novel and a graphic novel.

For my novel, I’ve got to think Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles, which you reviewed, is going to get some love. Aside from the fact that Miller’s debut won the Orange Prize and made our list of the Best of 2012, I like this title for an Alex because it is simply one of the most enjoyable and accessible adult books I read last year. A fabulous love story, a fascinating retelling of (primarily) the Iliad, this is a book that could easily have been published as YA and probably been one of my top YA books of the year as well.

I’ve been hearing quite a bit of end of the year buzz for Mark Siegel’s Sailor Twain, and it may well get recognized, but the graphic novel I’d predict is Gone to Amerikay by Derek McCulloch and illustrated by Colleen Doran. To be honest, I wasn’t completely convinced by the ghostly conclusion to this one, but our reviewer was, and I seconded her nomination to our Best of 2012 list on the force of its intricate narrative structure, especially the wonderful intertwining of the story with the song around which it is told, and its gorgeous art work. I haven’t convinced many teens to pick this up yet, but my teens are pretty devoted Manga readers. For lovers of American Graphic Novels, I think this has a ton of appeal.


ANGELA:  Oh no! You beat me to The Song of Achilles! I completely agree — this is a terrific read for teens. What I especially like about it is that it is as likely to appeal to boys as to girls. I’m also glad you brought up Sailor Twain. The Alex committee may well prove us both wrong and go for this one, but my favorite graphic novel of the year was Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes. (See how I sneak in an extra possible title without using my next two slots? Sneaky!)

For my next prediction I’m going with The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker. There was a lot of disagreement among AB4T reviewers about this title while we were working on our Best of the Year list. It seems to be a book that readers either champion or don’t understand what all the fuss is about. I have found myself on both sides of that fence. But as we reached the end of the year I found this to be one of the books I thought about and remembered most vividly. Also, as I was brainstorming ideas for my next student bookgroup pick yesterday this stood out as one with great discussion potential.

I do have one more nonfiction title to highlight, but in this round I’m going to pull out Defending Jacob by William Landay. This is a terrific murder mystery/courtroom thriller that, despite being told from the point of view of an adult, has teen appeal in spades. An 8th grader is accused of murdering another boy in his class. The accused’s father is the town’s D.A., and he is determined to defend his son whether he did it or not. There is a lot of unreliable narrator stuff going on here, and a terrific surprise ending. I spent the whole book wondering whether this kid was guilty or not. This one was on our Best of the Year so far list in June, but never really came up in discussion for the Best list. I’m bringing it back.

MARK:  And we’re down to two. I admit that I didn’t read Age of Miracles, largely because of some of the puzzled responses you mentioned, but it definitely got a lot of hype, and I could easily see it with an Alex. For my last pick, I wish I had a nice big fast-paced SF book to predict, along the lines of last year’s Robopocalypse (Daniel Wilson, Doubleday, 2011), but I haven’t seen many come up so far–I wonder what you think of the chances for Daniel O’Malley’s The Rook? Instead, I’ll go with Megan Abbott’s Dare Me. I already mentioned that this one made VOYA’s best adult mysteries for teens list, and it was one of our favorites of the year. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but Priscille’s review makes it sound quite intriguing.

OK – you get the last one. Do you have a dark horse candidate up your sleeve?

ANGELA: The Rook. Hmm. That’s quite possible. I am not choosing it simply because it’s not one of my personal favorites of the year. It went on a little too long for my taste. Don’t get me wrong — it totally belongs on a list of the top 20 of the year. Top 10? Not buying it. Now, if the Alex committee was instructed to choose a variety of genres within their 10, I would think again. But the award Procedures say nothing about distribution.

I think I will end with one more nonfiction prediction — Dear Marcus: A Letter to the Man Who Shot Me by Jerry McGill. I have to thank reviewer Amy Cheney for convincing me to read this one. Again, like Wild, it is the author’s direct writing style and brave honesty that will appeal to teen readers. Shot in the back when he was 13, the author learns to live with paralysis and, just as important, learns to forgive his assailant, who has never been identified.

MARK: So there’s our list of ten (plus a couple sneaked in) predictions for the Alex Awards.  Look at all that nonfiction!  Three are memoirs, but still–I’d be pretty (pleasantly) shocked if 4 of the 10 picks were nonfiction.

ANGELA: Hopefully all of these possibilities will show up on the list of Vetted Nominations. But given the number of adult titles published every year, who knows? Lots of fun to speculate, though. Join us! What are you betting on this season?

About Mark Flowers

Mark Flowers is the Young Adult Librarian at the John F. Kennedy Library in Vallejo, CA. He reviews for a variety of library journals and blogs and recently contributed a chapter to The Complete Summer Reading Program Manual: From Planning to Evaluation (YALSA, 2012). Contact him via Twitter @droogmark


  1. I think John Scalzi’s REDSHIRTS could win an Alex. I couldn’t get any of the other AB4T reviewers to read it and back me up when I suggested it for our best of the year, but I think it is the sort of book that appeals to the same geeky SF fans as READY PLAYER ONE (which won an Alex in 2012).

    • Mark Flowers says:

      There you go – that’s what I meant by “a nice big fast-paced SF book”. Good one.

      • I would be *thrilled* if REDSHIRTS wins an Alex. It’s one of my favorite books of 2012; so fun to read as a Star Trek fan, but the pacing, characters and tone are just so strong I think there’s appeal for non-Trekker teens. It’s also surprisingly philosophical and touching (those codas!). I’m keeping my fingers crossed for this one.

        I’m also conflicted about AGE OF MIRACLES. I see the teen appeal–apocalyptic-type situation, coming-of-age, burgeoning romance–but the novel reads like it’s trying to hard to be poignant without quite reaching those depths. Yet, I read this novel a year ago (as an ARC) and I can still recall a lot about it in some detail. It stuck with me and I’m still not sure if I liked it or hated it. If it wins an Alex, I won’t be surprised but I’m not sure that I’ll be upset either.